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Military Health Benefits for Divorced Spouses and their Families

Upon dissolution of marriage in Missouri or divorce in Kansas, the former spouse of a military service member or retiree who meets the eligibility criteria may be able to continue receiving certain benefits, including health insurance coverage. The benefits are statutory, meaning that a qualified former spouse receives the benefits upon applying, regardless of whether (or not) a court order bestows these benefits upon him or her. In such a status, the court is not required to “award” them to a former spouse of a military servicemember, nor may a servicemember threaten to withhold such benefits.

Receipt of Military Benefits During Separation:

Until a judgment of divorce or decree of divorce is issued, a civilian spouse separated from a military servicemember retains full spousal military privileges, including their identification card, medical insurance coverage, use of the military exchange, commissary, etc. While the servicemember can terminate the spouse’s ability to cash checks on post, he or she cannot confiscate the spouse’s identification card or otherwise suspend or terminate the spouse’s privileges.

Legal Separation in a Military Family:

When a military spouse legally separates, they are still treated as married for purposes of the identification card and access to military benefits. However, the judge will divide the marital estate through the decree of legal separation and thus, a legally separated spouse will not continue to accrue entitlement to military retirement credit after the decree of legal separation is issued.

Spouses who do not have a present/immediate plan to remarry may wish to consider whether a legal separation is viable/available option. For example, a spouse close to receiving their 20/20/20 benefits can be legally separated until meeting that threshold requirement, providing the ability to retain lifetime health insurance benefits and then converting the judgment of legal separation into a judgment of divorce. 

What is the 20/20/20 Benefit for Former Military Spouses?

A former spouse who was married to a military servicemember for at least twenty years of active duty military service qualifies for medical (but not dental) benefits, as well as certain other benefits for the remainder of his or her life. Eligibility for a 20/20/20 spouse is determined based on the military spouse’s own social security number and not the servicemember’s SSN, so the former spouse should contact DEERS to advise of the divorce and arrange for a change in sponsor for the military spouse to oneself. 

Under 10 U.S. Code Section 1072(2)(F), a former spouse of a servicemember is defined as a dependent and therefore entitled to all military benefits and installation privileges including medical, commissary, military exchanges, etc. The requirements for qualification of a 20/20/20 spouse are as follows:

  1. The parties are married for at least 20 years;
  2. The servicemember had at least 20 years of creditable service; and 
  3. There were at least 20 years of overlap between the marriage and the military service (during which both occurred);

Qualification as a 20/20/15 Spouse for Transitional Benefits

Pursuant to 10 U.S. Code Section 1072(2)(G) and (H) a former spouse who meets the 20/20/15 criteria is a dependent solely for purposes of military medical care only and receives one year of transitional medical benefits. No other benefits such as commissary privileges are available. The qualifying criteria for a 20/20/15 spouse are:

  1. The parties are married for at least 20 years;
  2. The servicemember had at least 20 years of creditable service; and 
  3. There were at least 15 years of overlap between the marriage and the military service.

Termination of Benefits for a Former Spouse:

Remarriage by a former spouse terminates medical benefits and suspends, during the marriage, all other installation privileges such as commissary, military exchange and other similar benefits. The suspended benefits are reinstated if the second marriage ends in divorce or death. Medical benefits are suspended for any period of time when the former spouse is covered by an employer-sponsored health plan.

When a Servicemember’s Military Career is Less than 20 Years:

In rare situations, a servicemember may be able to retire with less than 20 years of service. This is typically for a medical retirement, but may also be offered as an early retirement as part of a military downsizing plan. In such circumstances, the former spouse is not entitled to any military benefits because in both cases (20/20/20 and 20/20/15), the 20 years of creditable military service prong is not satisfied. While a military servicemember taking early retirement for disability or military downsizing is entitled to Tricare medical benefits and their spouse is entitled to continuing coverage if still married, there is not available coverage for the spouse if the parties get divorced.

Reserve Credit and 20/20/20 Former Spouse Benefits

Whether reserve military service counts toward 20/20/20 service depends. The statute does not clearly define “creditable service” as being active duty or reserve service. Reserve time counts towards reserve benefits and thus, a former spouse married to a military reservist for more than 20 years of reserve time is eligible for 20/20/20 benefits upon the reservist becoming eligible. Similarly, active duty clearly counts towards reserve benefits for eligibility purposes. The harder question is whether reserve time counts towards active duty benefits. Again, this is an undetermined outcome, but the most obvious answer is that reserve time is not going to count toward active duty retirement. 

  • Tricare Eligibility for Children of Military Servicemembers
  • Unmarried children and stepchildren of military servicemembers retain full military benefits while under the age of 22. 
  • Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP):

This is similar to COBRA for private health insurance programs and allows Tricare to provide divorced spouses who are not remarried with transitional health insurance coverage through the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). It is not a lifetime entitlement and not a replacement for 20/20/20 benefits, but is intended to provide a transition or bridge for coverage. The costs are significant, but again, it provides the same excellent coverage as Tricare after the parties divorce. 10 U.S. Code Section 1078a(d) provides that the CHCBP can only be elected within 60 days of losing Tricare Coverage. Thus, a former spouse needs to fill out DD Form 2837 for continued health care benefit application without delay after a divorce is finalized.

Unlimited Medical Coverage for a Former Spouse:

Pursuant to 10 U.S. Code Section 1078a(g)(4), former spouses who meet criteria retain CHCBP coverage as long as the following criteria are complied with:

7. The former spouse did not remarry under the age of 55;

8. The former spouse was enrolled as a family member in an approved health care benefit program (Tricare or DEERS) at any time in the 18 months before divorce or annulment;

9. The former spouse is receiving a share of the military member’s retirement or has a court order or written agreement for a share of the retirement or SBP coverage.

This coverage, however, is paying a full premium cost and thus is distinguished from a 20/20/20 spousal entitlement. 

Combining Transitional Benefits with Continued Health Care Benefit Program:

20/20/15 transitional benefits can be combined with Continued Health Care Benefit Program coverage. When the dependent status is lost (after the period of transition), the former spouse may then opt for three years of paid transitional coverage through CHCBP. 

If you are a military spouse and need to protect your access to health care coverage, it is important that you work with a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney who understands military issues. Call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to put our knowledge and experience to work for your family!


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